The Anacortes School Board is asking the City of Anacortes to explore teaming up with the Fidalgo Pool & Fitness Center to build a community youth center as part of the proposed aquatic center.

The city and school district signed an agreement, which expires at the end of this year, to explore developing a community youth center on the former Cap Sante High School site at 22nd Street and J Avenue. Under that proposal, the city would lease the site from the school district for 50 years.

However, on Aug. 22, School Board members expressed several concerns, including whether a fundraising campaign for a community youth center would detract from the capital campaign now underway for the aquatic center.

Anacortes School District Superintendent Mark Wenzel said the School Board wasn’t having a change of heart about being a partner in the project.

“After meeting with Parks & Rec director Jonn Lunsford recently, the board decided to ask the City to vigorously explore a possible partnership with the pool,” Wenzel emailed Sept. 6 in response to a phone message from the American. “The board did not declare that it had abandoned the idea of leasing land to the City for a proposed site; they did, however, share that they thought a pool partnership could be in the public’s best interest in regard to potential cost and public project synergy.”

Wenzel and School Board President Bobbilyn Hogge were to write a letter to the city proposing a meeting of city, school district and pool district representatives, according to minutes from the School Board’s Aug. 22 meeting.

Anacortes Mayor Laurie Gere said Sept. 2 that the project would be discussed on the staff level sometime the week of Sept. 16, and she could have something to report then.

Pool District Executive Director Mitch Everton is out of the office until Sept. 29 and unavailable for comment. Aquatic center capital campaign director Renata Maybruck emailed in response to an inquiry: “I am not able to comment on any of this at this time.”

The Fidalgo Pool and Fitness Center District proposes replacing its current facility with a two-pool aquatic and fitness center. Proponents say the 45-year-old building with its single pool can’t accommodate multiple uses. Proponents hope to cover half of the estimated $28.4 million project cost through philanthropy, half through a ballot measure.

The city is proposing a 21,000-square-foot, two-story community center with a Boys & Girls Club, teen center, gymnasium, fitness and dance room, and a performing arts studio. Gere told the School Board in March 2018 that the project would cost about $9 million, with roughly half covered by one donor and half covered by a capital campaign.

The Boys & Girls Club currently meets in the basement of City Hall, which Gere said is insufficient for the club’s needs.

“And there’s always been a need for more gymnasium space for all of our programs we have between the school and the city,” Gere said in an earlier interview.

Aquatic center capital campaign leaders met with Gere and Parks and Recreation Director Jonn Lunsford in the spring and pitched the idea of combining efforts, but at that time, Gere and Lunsford said they planned to stick with their agreement with the school district to evaluate use of the former Cap Sante High School site.

Per the School Board’s request, Lunsford and his staff compiled a report detailing the successes of programs at community youth centers like the one the city proposes. He presented that report to the board on July 18.

School Board member Matt Cutter asked at the Aug. 22 meeting whether the aquatic center and the community youth center could be built together, funded by a single bond. Everton said the issue had not yet come before the pool commission, according to the meeting minutes. The pool commission is “interested in seeing where the school district is at first,” the minutes state.

School Board member Erin Rieger said she prefers a collaborative effort by the city and pool district, adding that the school district could provide overflow parking and green space on the former Cap Sante High School site. Her concern was that if the site is developed, the school district would lose future use of the property.

School Board member Bill Shaw said he supported the idea of the community youth center being built on school district property and said part of the center could be made available for school use. But he and Cutter said they would like to see a business plan for the community youth center and want to ensure the center and adjacent pool don’t duplicate efforts.

As a group, though, the School Board leaned toward a possible three-way partnership of the city, school district and pool district.

“In essence, the board believes in partnership, see(s) value for community’s youth” in a well-programmed center,” the minutes state. And the board “would like city to look into partnership with pool to site the facility there.”

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